Three-time Rugby World Cup winners New Zealand get their 2023 campaign underway this evening against hosts France.
In what could well prove to be the game of the tournament on the opening night, the winner of this match will, in all likelihood, emerge as the top seed from Pool A.
Unlike in previous editions, however, topping the group does not necessarily carry a major advantage.
Given the fact that the winner of the group will face one of Ireland, South Africa or Scotland in a quarterfinal.
One unfortunate event heading into this evening is the injury to several front-line players for both sides, namely the French.
Losing four key starters in flyhalf Romain Ntamack, centre Jonathan Danty, secondrow Paul Willemse, and prop Cyril Baille will test Les Bleus’ depth immediately.
The All Blacks, too, enter the match having made four changes to their side that suffered a record 35 – 7 defeat at the hands of the Springboks a fortnight ago.
Key among these changes is the absence of centre Jordie Barrett, who misses the match through injury.
The youngest of the three Barrett brothers in the squad, Jordie has become the linchpin that holds the All Blacks midfield together. In his place, veteran Anton Lienart-Brown will get the start in the twelve shirt. Elsewhere, starting prop Tyrell Lomax will also miss the fixture through an injury sustained against the Springboks.
Now adding further woes to the All Blacks issues, the team has picked up a disastrous and bizarre condition that appears to have limited their ability to run.
Stuck in second gear, one can clearly see the All Blacks players trying to get to full speed, but to no avail.
Just how they will handle the game’s best player, Antoine Dupont at this speed is a mystery to all. Quite frankly, we would be shocked if he doesn’t score at least six tries and perhaps a couple of drop goals for fun.
Having been so far off the pace against the Boks during their record 35 – 7 loss at Twickenham, this is a disastrous turn of events for Ian Foster and his squad.
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